Blues For Brother Zach

Zach as Student Leader at Columbia

On The Passing of a Tireless Freedom Fighter

Upon hearing that the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy had passed, the novelist Gorky said on behalf of other Russian writers whom Tolstoy had inspired:”Now… we are all orphans.” That is how many of us feel who recognize, and often relied upon, Brother Zach’s leadership; he was indefatigable in his efforts to uplift and advance the interests of the Black community. He seemed to be anywhere and everywhere, anytime and all the time, lending his considerable talents to a wide array of causes 24/7. More often than not he did it pro-bono, which is the truest measure of commitment.

Brother Zach was what they called “Race Men” in the 20th century, the century that shaped him and defined his values. And he has planted positive seeds in many places that will bear fruit to nourish the minds and spirits of generations yet unborn. With his ever present smile and heroic optimism in the face of persistent adversity, he was one of a kind.

Over the course of what has turned out to be a fairly long and eventful life, I have traveled over the ocean seas, and resided for nearly half a century in this grand metropolis at the center of the world. It sometimes seems that I have met every variety of human being and spoke to everybody twice, thus I am certain that I have met a representative sample of what humanity has to offer.

Yet I have never met a better man than Brother Zach, and I am certain that I never will. As our Ibo ancestors – whose prolific and profound proverbs appear to have encapsulated all the world’s wisdom regarding the human condition and the vicissitudes of life – would say on this question: “A better man than Zachary Husser has not been born….and his mother is dead.”

When I heard Brother Zach had danced and joined the ancestors, I was devastated. I had just hung out with him a few weeks ago and he seemed healthy as a race horse, moving in triple speed running hither and yon as was his habit. He was a man on a permanent mission, a man who lived a purpose driven life. One need only look at his Face Book page in order to see a catalogue of the myriad activities that he was involved with. It caused the thoughtful observer to wonder when he slept…or just chilled.

Yet despite the fact that he was always in the trenches did not make him bitter or depressed. Like the blues, Zach understood that life could be a low down dirty shame…but we had to keep on swinging anyway. It was this irrepressible spirit embodied in the blues that enabled the Afro-American people to keep our souls in tact in the face of the horrors of American racism.

Hence Zach always had a ready smile; whose incandescence was made the brighter when contrasted with his regal ebony hue. He was – as the brilliant 18th century Afro-American scientist Benjamin Banneker described himself in a letter to Thomas Jefferson introducing a mathematical treatise authored by himself – “a negro of the deepest dye.”

There was a grandeur about him that reminded me of the ancient Ethiopian King Menelek the II, and a benevolence worthy of a saint. I cannot remember a time when Brother Zach was not in good spirits and convinced that if we just kept the faith and continued the struggle…victory is assured!

Hence the question before us now is how do we remember such a grand spirit? How should we honor and celebrate him? Well, first we must approach the task with humility given the gravitas of the subject. I have searched for words sufficiently poetic and profound to describe the debt we owe for his service to us. And more importantly how do we pay it.

Although words are my game, they sometimes desert me when the gravitas of a subject is such it challenges the power of words to describe – even if one relies on the poetic treasure trove manifest in language of Shakespeare, Gwendolyn Brooks, The King James Bible, Zora Neale Hurston, Chaucer and James Weldon Johnson. Now is such a time.

However, knowing Zach as I do – and I knew him very well – I think we will honor him best by continuing the fight for the things he fought for since he was one of the leaders of the historic student strike at Columbia University as a teenager.*  He would no doubt have smiled at the many good things that will be said of him, but joining the struggle is the best way to keep his spirit alive. His works will live on because great works, whether in literature or life….will long endure. 

This Struggle Attracted National Leaders

Chillin On the Beach

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* To read about the Columbia University Strike see:
https://commentariesonthetimes.me/2018/06/10/the-real-vanguard/

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem

November 6, 2018

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